In October last year the remote Scottish island of Lewis was torn apart by allegations of ritual child abuse. But two weeks ago, the case against the accused suddenly collapsed, just as similar actions in the Orkneys and Nottingham did before them. It was another case of ‘Satanic panic’, but as Rosie Waterhouse finds out, the community remains divided
The following correction was printed in the Guardian’s Corrections and clarifications column, Saturday July 17 2004
In the article below, we refer to an earlier failure to prove similar allegations of child abuse in Nottingham. In fact, individuals were convicted of sexually abusing children in the 1987-89 Nottingham case; we should have made clearer that what was unsubstantiated, was that satanic abuse took place. At the end of the article, we say that the BBC2 Newsnight documentary, A case of Satanic Panic, was to be shown at 11.30pm instead of the correct time of 10.30pm.
It was pitch black outside, misty and bitterly cold, when Ian Campbell rose at 6am on October 3 2003 to get ready for work on a fish farm on the remote island of Lewis in the outer Hebrides. As his wife and five children slept, he made a cup of coffee and sat down in the kitchen of their cottage on the edge of the peat moors of Ness, north of Lewis, when there was a knock at the door.
“There was a plain-clothes officer standing there who identified himself as being the police,” Campbell recalls. “Suddenly there were police everywhere. They said, ‘We’ve got a warrant to search your house.’ They said something about child abuse.”
Shocked and confused, Campbell went to wake his wife, Penny, asleep on the sofabed in the lounge. In the chaos that ensued, plain-clothes and uniformed officers and social workers from Western Isles council seemed to fill up every room in the cramped, two-bedroom home, a converted traditional stone “black house” dating from 1840.
Campbell, 39, was handcuffed and driven off in an unmarked car. Penny, 32, was asked if she wanted to help dress the children, aged between eight months and 11 years, then she too was taken away – leaving her children behind – to be questioned at Stornoway police station, 28 miles away. The couple were interviewed separately – Ian for more than four hours, Penny for three. The allegations they both faced were devastating – child sexual abuse involving three young girls on the island.
The Campbells were among 11 people arrested that October morning in dawn raids on homes on Lewis, Leicestershire, West Yorkshire and Dorset. Three people, including Penny, were released without charge later that day. Eight others, including Ian, and a 75-year-old grandmother, were charged with sexual offences against children over a period of six years between 1995 and 2001.
The charges were said to involve three girls under 16 who had been in the care of the Western Isles social services department. It is understood that the investigation began after one of the girls said something to a carer that caused her concern. This was relayed to a social worker and, over several months, allegations of abuse followed.
The arrests, in what police code-named Operation Haven, soon made headlines on local and national radio, television and newspapers. The more lurid referred to a “child sex abuse network” and a suspected “paedophile ring”.
All eight accused denied the charges and a trial was expected soon after. But two weeks ago, on Friday July 2, the case suddenly collapsed. In a statement, Northern Constabulary said the Scottish Crown Office had instructed that no proceedings would be taken. The Crown Office confirmed that all charges had been dropped. No explanation was given.
The next day, determined to clear her husband’s name, Penny Campbell wrote a long and impassioned statement which she emailed to the press. In it she revealed publicly, for the first time, the bizarre nature of the allegations that Ian and the others had faced – Satanic ritual child abuse.
Transcripts of police interviews, seen by the Guardian, reveal that those charged were accused of being devil worshippers, of raping and sexually abusing children in black magic rituals and wife-swapping orgies during which they dressed in ceremonial robes and masks, sacrificed animals and drank their blood.
The charges were redolent of similar cases in Orkney, Rochdale and Nottingham – among many others that occurred in the early 1990s – all of which were dismissed due to lack of evidence. The so-called Satanic abuse was exposed as a myth; how could this happen again?
Research into a series of similar ritual abuse investigations in Britain, conducted by Professor Jean la Fontaine and published by the Department of Health in 1994, concluded that although there might have been sexual abuse of children in some of the cases, there was no forensic evidence that Satanic ritual abuse existed.
Further investigations revealed the “Satanic panic” had originated in the United States and been spread there and here by evangelical born-again Christians, and police, social workers and therapists who attended conferences and seminars on this apparently newly discovered and most depraved form of child abuse.
Last Tuesday (July 13) Western Isles council announced it would be conducting a review of events on Lewis and invited the Social Work Services Inspectorate to analyse their involvement. The inquiry is expected to examine methods used by social workers to conduct “disclosure interviews” and therapy sessions with the children whose allegations led to the charges of sexual abuse. The review will start immediately.
It is also expected to investigate how the allegations of “Satanic ritual abuse” first arose and how they developed. An earlier statement from the council, after the charges were dropped, said its employees were to be “commended for their professionalism and commitment in difficult and complex circumstances.”
The Guardian has interviewed three of the accused men who remain on Lewis, and also members of their families who were originally suspected of being perpetrators, to piece together accounts of their nine-month ordeal. We also talked to local people in a community that has been shattered by allegations that there was a paedophile ring in their midst.
Peter Nelson, 59, and his daughter Mary-Anne, 37, had also been asleep at their home in Lochs, on the west of Lewis, when they were woken by their dogs barking and the police banging on the door. It was the same routine as with the Campbells – a search warrant was produced and they were invited to the station.
“When they raided this house I don’t think the detectives realised I am disabled,” Nelson says. “I have spinal injuries and my daughter is my carer. But one of them asked me: ‘Is it an unnatural relationship with your daughter? Do you share the same bed?’ The next thing he said I was being accused of the rape of three children. And my daughter was being accused as well.”
John and Susan Sellwood, were also arrested that cold morning and driven in two cars to Stornoway police station, bewildered and afraid.
“They treated me as guilty from the start,” says John. “In the car on the way to the police station they accused me of rape and said they had got me on a video so there was no point me denying it. They said there were others involved so it would be better if I got it off my chest, because if I stayed quiet and the others spilled the beans I would be made to look worse. I didn’t know what they were talking about.”
Susan Sellwood was interviewed for almost six hours by two male officers in plain clothes. “I was crying and hysterical for most of the interview,” she says. “I suffer from panic attacks. At one point I thought I was going to be physically sick. They stuck my head out of the window and told me to get some fresh air.
“I was accused of having relationships, orgies, with all the men. I was accused of holding the girls down while the men performed. I was accused of joining in with a vibrator. They asked what I knew about the occult and the sacrifice of animals. I was just totally hysterical by this time.”
The Campbells, the Sellwoods and the Nelsons were interviewed simultaneously at Stornoway that morning. The Campbells were quizzed for longer and in more depth about the Satanic elements and their interest in the occult. The Campbells are Pagans. They made no secret of their religion when they moved to the island in 1997. New Agers flock to Lewis at significant times such as the midsummer solstice because of the famous standing stones of Callanish, monoliths considered second only to Stonehenge as a mystical tourist attraction.
“As soon as I said I was a Pagan I knew I was sunk,” says Ian. “The police officers interviewing me didn’t know what a Pagan was. They equated being a Pagan with being a Satanist and a devil worshipper. They had taken away two books on Paganism from my house and saw them as evidence of Satanism. We also had a bible and a book on Jehovah’s witnesses but they didn’t take those.
“When they raided the house again last February – after Penny started writing letters of complaint to the police – they took away some of her clothes including a purple velvet hooded top, a full-length blue and gold Kaftan and a mauve and black lace tunic, which belonged to one of my daughters. They obviously thought Penny was a witch.”
There has been no explanation from the police or the Crown Office as to why the charges were suddenly dropped. The Crown Office statement merely said: “We can say that all the available evidence was carefully examined before this decision was taken.”
Last week, in the local pub and social club in Ness, where most of the accused had lived at some time, feelings were still running high. At the bar, a table of women on a girls’ night out were shocked the charges had been dropped. “There must have been something in it; the police must have had evidence to make arrests,” insists one, the mother of two small children.
All eight accused had moved from England to Lewis at some stage, for a better, simpler life, and if there was one consolation for the community it was that at least they were not islanders. A well-known local figure, who agreed to be called Angus, who seems to know everyone in Ness, believes the majority want those accused who remain to leave.
“These charges of paedophilia and child sex rings have brought the island into disrepute,” he says. When asked what he thought about the revelation that the allegations included Satanic rituals he says: “I don’t believe in that rubbish myself. But we all knew the Campbells were white witches. We all heard this was what the neighbours were saying before they moved to this part of Lewis.”
In the nine months that followed the accusations, the effects on the accused have been traumatic. Those in Lewis were subjected to vigilante attacks, personal abuse and have been ostracised by many in the community. Campbell, Nelson and Sellwood have all had the word “paedo” daubed in paint on the walls, and in Sellwood’s case on the main road, outside their homes. While Nelson was in prison, the garden that he and his daughter had cultivated over seven years was raided and wrecked. He was so fearful for their safety, that he installed CCTV cameras, which transmit views from around his house and garden onto a massive TV screen in his lounge.
Last March, when he hit his lowest point, Nelson attempted suicide by taking an overdose. “The stress of everything, the hatred that was being shown to us, the damaging of the property and our garden we had worked so hard to create; it was like living in a nightmare,” he admits.
Mary-Anne found him unconscious on the sofa and he recovered after four days in hospital. Nelson’s mental state is still fragile, and he breaks down often at the memory of recent events, but he is stubbornly defiant and determined to stay on Lewis. “I will probably become a hermit,” he says, “and just potter around my garden. But they will not drive me out.”
The Sellwoods and the Campbells are not so confident. After mulling over their future in recent days, both couples have decided they will probably leave the island to begin a new life. For Ian Campbell, his world has been turned upside down.
“The way we were as a family has changed,” he says. “I find it hard to be close to the kids like I used to be. I can’t hug them like I used to. Even now I worry that holding my daughter’s hand in the street is going to be interpreted as something different.
“To be called a paedophile, it’s like a sickness inside. I have lost control of my life and I have become very angry. I was also very frightened. When the police were interviewing me about devil worshipping, animal sacrifice and the Satanic stuff, they just believed it was true. It was like a 17th-century witch hunt. If this had happened then, Penny and I would have been burned at the stake.”
Rosie Waterhouse is a consultant on Newsnight’s film, A case of Satanic Panic?, which is on BBC2 at 11.30pm.
Possibly Related Products
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.